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Language and Belonging

Local Categories and Practices in a Guatemalan Highland Community


Rita Vallentin

In this book, the author introduces belonging from a sociolinguistic perspective as a concept that is accomplished in interaction. Belonging can be expressed linguistically in social, spatial and temporal categories – indexing rootedness, groupness and cohesion. It can also be captured through shared linguistic practices within a group, e.g. collectively shared narrative practices. Using conversation analysis and an analysis of narrative as practice bolstered with ethnographic knowledge, the author shows how belonging is tied to locally contextualized use of deictics and to collectively shared narrations of the past in a Guatemalan community. The book examines the understudied phenomenon of belonging at the intersection of pragmatics and linguistic anthropology.

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2. Belonging and Identification


Belonging is a multi-relational concept encompassing more than the often bi-lateral categorizations involved in processes of identification. Roughly defined, belonging as it is used here refers to people’s processes of making sense of themselves as part of a group in terms of social, spatial and temporal dimensions (see 2.6), and as sharing specific practices with that group. The concept of belonging emerged from discussions about shortcomings or deadlocks surrounding the terms identity and identification. However, in its present conceptualizations, it still intersects with these concepts. Hence, I will start this chapter with an approach to the term identity and an outline of the turn from identity to identification; later I discuss the relationship between identification and the concept of belonging. Identification covers questions of “who am I” and “who are we” in processual terms of active and intersubjectively achieved boundary drawing. It is, even in its theoretical and analytical differentiation into personal and social identification, always a process involving (imagined) others. It is per definitionem a social process. In the following sections (2.1, 2.2, 2.3 and 2.4), we will look at the relationship between an individual’s social identification and groups, and some critiques between the connection of the self with the social. Finally, a more recent and empirical approach to identity and identification as social positioning (Bucholtz & Hall, 2005) is introduced in section 2.5. By understanding identification as emerging, as “happening” at different levels in interactive encounters – as relational and as always partial – it provides a useful...

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